Training A Capella Worship Leaders

I had an interesting conversation over lunch today. A dear friend of mine was lamenting the fact that a good education for an a capella worship leader is generally hard to come by. For generations, learning to lead worship in an a capella church consisted of Wednesday night services when the youth had a chance to lead singing. We’d throw some Jr High boy up there, let him start a song in the wrong key, and the regular song leader (sitting on the front row) would join in (in the correct key). Then it was off to the races.

There are a few organizations who spent summer sessions teaching young men how to lead, and I believe some of those are still out there. I would hazard a guess that they are much less attended than they used to be.Things have changed a bit (understatement).

A large number of churches have not changed at all. They still proceed with worship as they always have, and more power to them. I suspect that, as the years go by, it’s getting harder and harder to find new song leaders. It’s nice to see motivators like Keith Lancaster pouring themselves into training leaders (see his Worship Leader Institute).

Many a capella churches are moving to the “team” concept. I say “moving” as if this were a new concept, which it is not. Many churches have being doing this for years, but more and more are heading that way. This may seem like a foreign concept to those of you reading this that are not from an a capella church. Believe me, it’s a big step from a solitary man leading singing to a worship leader with an 8-10 person team.

So how does someone learn to lead a team of singers? There are several Universities that offer degrees in Worship Pastoring… but those are generally oriented toward instrumental churches. I only know of one that offers a specific degree in leading a capella worship (Lipscomb University in Nashville). The learning curve is much steeper for leading teams. Throwing a new leader into the fire will almost certainly result in burned followers and a charcoaled leader.

Do we learn by observation? Brandon Scott Thomas of Zoe Group has led thousands of people in worship through the Zoe Conferences and special events. Many have studied and learned under him, even if he did not realize it. The same can be said for Randy Gill, Ryan Christian, Ken Young and several others.

Do we learn by participation? I know of several worship leaders who began as a tenor or baritone on the team and “graduated” into leading.

Or does it actually start in our youth? Are the worship leaders of today the same kids who stood behind the pulpit on Wednesday nights, waving their arms in their best approximation of a 4/4 pattern and trying to sing without cracking?

What do you think? How should we train our next generation of a capella worship leaders? If you’re one of them, how did YOU start? Sound off… leave your comments in the space below.


  1. I had multiple streams of influence and training. In high school I sang in chorus and my director would let me direct from time to time. I thought he was nuts, but now I see he had an agenda. It was a Christian school so I was “thrown to the wolves” and would lead my peers in worship. I had a youth minister who did the exact same thing. I got into college and sang in a group and through some relationships, we would sing concerts at events, and then turn around and be the “worship team” for the worship leader. Working with, observing many worship leaders, both a capella and instrumental, conducting classes as a music major, etc…

    As a full-time worship leader in a capella churches now, I see how much experience I have to draw from. It’s great, but I also see the value of intense, focused training and mentoring. I think even a college program would do great teaching mechanics, but there is an artistic and spirit-led side of worship leading that is more “caught” than “taught.”

    Education = Good. Mentoring individuals and small groups = Great.

  2. Gary Moyers says

    I agree. Mentoring is an enormous plus when it comes to preparation for worship leading. In fact, as it’s been, most of our education has come through mentoring alone. So do we need to establish a worship minister intern program as our youth ministers did many years ago? I suppose that would require a good number of full-time paid worship ministers who are amenable to it and whose churches can support it. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

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